A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Sally Buzbee will be The Washington Post’s first woman executive editor.
Buzbee was appointed on Tuesday, and she will take charge on June 1. Buzbee is, of course, defined by so much more than her gender. As the Post’s CEO Fred Ryan said, Buzbee has an ‘exceptional record of achievement and a tremendous wealth of experience in leading a global news organization.’ She joined the AP in 1988 and worked as a reporter and then a bureau chief before taking on more senior leadership roles, including executive editor there.
But Buzbee’s appointment is also the latest in a series of monumental leadership changes across media, bringing more diversity to the top of major news outlets. Last month Alessandra Galloni became the first female editor of Reuters. And on Monday Kimberly Godwin became president at ABC News, the first woman and the first Black person to hold that position. Women leaders are also running CBS News, USA Today, MSNBC, The Guardian, The Economist, the Financial Times, Politico, and the newsroom at NPR, among others.
It’s important to call attention to the history-making nature of Buzbee’s hire. In some ways, the Post is coming full circle, since the paper’s publisher Katherine Graham was a trailblazer in the 1960s and 70s.
In an interview with The New York Times, Buzbee said it is a “huge honor” to be the first woman to lead the Post newsroom, but also acknowledged the women who came before her.
“I am grateful to them pretty much every day of my life, because I know that it took work and guts, and I really do feel that they paved the way for things that are happening now,” she said.
It’s also important to add more nuance to this milestone. As former Post reporter Wesley Lowery tweeted, “Given the barriers women still face in our industry, it is unquestionably a big deal (even as it remains true that representation alone isn’t enough to guarantee those barriers are torn down).” And putting a woman in charge won’t automatically fix any cultural problems inside a news organization or in its coverage.
Buzbee’s predecessor at the AP, Kathleen Carroll, was the first woman to run the newswire. So we asked Carroll for her reflections on this current moment in time.
“What really stands out about the current crop of new leaders is that most are being hired from outside the organization they’ll be leading,” Carroll said. “Internal candidates who’d been groomed (or waited) for years to step up always had the edge and that made it really hard for women and people of color to move up. But the experiences of running other news organizations, building new things, working in new formats and finding new audiences… all that will enrich the organizations these new leaders will steer.”
“And the fact that they are mostly women or people of color – well, maybe the front offices are at last starting to look like the rest of society. That will only make journalism better and more credible,” Carroll said. “Look, white men have had the big jobs since forever. Some are swell leaders, but not all. It’s way past time for everybody else to have a shot at the helm. I spent 30 of my 40-something years being the only woman in the room. I can’t tell you what a difference it made when there was one more. Two more. And after a long while, more women than men in the room! You breathe differently when you aren’t the only one.”
Carroll, currently the board chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists, added: “I’m cautiously hopeful that things are starting to really change. Audiences and newsrooms demand it and well they should.”
The AP’s search begins
Another intriguing element of Buzbee’s hiring is it came as a surprise. For the Post’s own write about her hiring, Paul Farhi noted that “her name rarely came up amid intense internal discussion about who would follow” Marty Baron, who retired in February.
And now the search is on for Buzbee’s replacement. Via David Bauder: “Gary Pruitt, AP president and CEO, said Buzbee has been ‘an exceptional leader’ and while her hiring by the Post is bittersweet news, it also reflects well on the organization she left behind.” The search for a new AP editor will take a few months, and in the meantime, the duties will be shared by two managing editors: Brian Carovillano “will lead AP’s news report” and David Scott “will handle operations.”
– The AP’s Julie Pace wrote of Buzbee, “She’s an amazing mom and role model for other working moms in journalism. Her kids were a presence in the newsroom, she took their phone calls, told stories about them. That meant a lot to me and other women in the @AP Washington bureau.”
More ‘Bezosbucks’ for the Post?
WaPo owner Jeff Bezos “hates being No. 2 at anything, so if you’re to challenge or displace” The New York Times, “you’re going to need a bigger newspaper,” Jack Shafer writes in this column full of “unsolicited advice” for Buzbee. “Make it your first priority to shake some of those Bezosbucks loose; a billionaire is a terrible thing to waste. If Bezos can afford a $500 million superyacht, he can afford a Times-sized newsroom,” Shafer writes…
>> Speaking of the Bezos yacht, which has been getting lots of press, this Tucker Carlson segment is rather rich: “FAT CAT BEZOS BOUGHT HIMSELF A SUPERYACHT WHILE HIS WAREHOUSE WORKERS PEE IN BOTTLES.” Justin Baragona of The Daily Beast saw it on Tuesday night and wondered if Carlson “has similar thoughts” about his boss Lachlan Murdoch “paying $30 million on a boat shed just to house his newest superyacht, which he’s apparently paying $150 million on.”